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Scientific discoveries 28/09/2020

The benefits of carotenoids for our health

Carotenoids are pigments that are naturally found in many different fruits, vegetables, algae and plants. They are powerful antioxidants, widely known for their numerous health benefits, particularly for the eyes, cardiovascular system and skin. The health benefits of carotenoids have been the subject of many scientific research studies. Nonetheless, the results are sometimes disputed. What is the current position? Overview of research by Eggersdorfer & Wyss.

Published in 2018 in the scientific journal Archives of biochemistry and biophysics, the study conducted by Eggersdorfer & Wyss [1] provides an overview of the health benefits of carotenoids identified in scientific literature.

Before we look more closely at this data, do you know why you should consume carotenoids and how best to do so?

Why and how do we consume carotenoids?

Carotenoids are a family of fat-soluble substances, ( mainly composed of beta-carotene, astaxanthin, lutein, zeaxanthin and lycopene. Although carotenoids are found in most fruit and vegetables, they cannot be synthesised by the human body [2]. This is why it is important to consume these substances from external sources, either in food or dietary supplements.

In the diet, carotenoids are found in most colored fruits and green leafy vegetables. For example, beta-carotene is found in carrots, oranges, broccoli and spinach. Lutein and zeaxanthin are found in kale, zucchini, broccoli, peas and kiwi. For lycopene, tomatoes, watermelon and guava are particularly recommended. But carotenoids are also found in sweet potatoes and certain types of squash. The only exception is astaxanthin, which is only found in crustaceans or microscopic algae. Carotenoids can also be consumed in the form of food supplements. For astaxanthin, for example, capsules are practical, because you would have to eat too much shellfish to get a sufficient dose of this carotenoid. If some dietary supplements provide a supplementation in carotenoids in the broad sense, others are more targeted. In particular, there are dietary supplements containing beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin or lycopene. 

The ideal would be to eat a diet rich in carotenoids while also consuming more targeted dietary supplements, based on specific needs.

Carotenoids and health

It is important to consume carotenoids because the human body is unable to synthesise them. But what health benefits do carotenoids offer?

Studies on the health benefits of carotenoids are sometimes contradictory. To get a clearer picture, we can look to the research conducted by Eggersdorfer & Wyss [1], which highlights the properties and roles of carotenoids identified in scientific literature.

According to this research, carotenoids may affect human health in several ways, particularly through their antioxidant properties, but also through other mechanisms.

  • - Provitamin A: cell renewal and the immune system
    Beta-carotene, also called provitamin A, is a precursor to vitamin A. Based on the body’s needs, this provitamin is converted into vitamin A, which is essential to our health. It plays an essential role in the body, particularly for our cells and the immune system.
  • Ocular health
    Lutein and zeaxanthin are found in the human retina, and more particularly concentrated in the macula, hence their name: macular pigments. These carotenoids thus promote ocular health.

    Their antioxidant properties have the capacity of neutralising singlet oxygen, offering protection against UV-induced peroxidation and reducing the formation of lipofuscin. Carotenoids also absorb blue light wavelengths, which should help to protect the eyes from photochemical lesions [4]. Other studies have shown that an additional intake of lutein/zeaxanthin can improve visual performance, particularly sensitivity to contrasts and tolerance of glare [5,6,7]. Finally, they may play a protective role in the case of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). In fact, according to a secondary AREDS2 [8] clinical trial, an additional intake of lutein/zeaxanthin may help reduce the risk of developing advanced AMD.  
  • Sun protection
    Carotenoids also have properties that protect the skin from ageing, UV-induced damage and sunburn. This is mainly due to their unique structure, composed of at least ten conjugated double bonds. This structure offers high potential for trapping reactive oxygen species, such as peroxide or singlet oxygen molecules [9]. However, the level of photoprotection obtained with carotenoids from food is lower than that achieved through the application of sunscreens. They therefore do not replace sun protection creams, but are beneficial when used together with sunscreen, as they offer protection from UV rays and help maintain healthy skin.
  • Cognitive performance
    Although the underlying mechanisms are not clear, several carotenoids appear to affect cognitive functions. These effects seem to be linked to antioxidant activity [10]. This is particularly the case with beta-carotene, which helps maintain cognitive performance [11] and with lutein and zeaxanthin, which improve our attention span, memory and cognitive flexibility [12].
  • Cardiovascular health
    Astaxanthin and lutein in particular seem to help prevent heart disease.

    Astaxanthin is known to reduce peroxidation of low-density lipoproteins [13] and improve blood lipid profiles [14]. Moreover, it slows average blood transit time, which can be beneficial to the microcirculation.

    As for lutein, its consumption and concentration in the blood appears to lead to a lower risk of coronary diseases and strokes [15].
  • Weight management
    The antioxidant properties of carotenoids can, by reducing the overall oxidative load, have beneficial effects on weight management and obesity [16]. Moreover, based on recent discoveries, carotenoids may have a beneficial effect on adipocyte differentiation [16], which would help reduce abdominal and sub-cutaneous fat.



[1] Eggersdorfer, M. & Wyss, A. "Carotenoids in human nutrition and health" Archives of biochemistry and biophysics652 (2018): 18-26.

2] Zimmer, J.P., Hammond B.R. Jr. "Possible influences of lutein and zeaxanthin on the developing retina" Clin. Ophthalmol. 1 (2007): 25-35.

3] Bernstein, P.S., Li, B., Vachali, P.P., Gorusupudi, A., Shyam, R., Henriksen, B.S., Nolan, J.M. "Lutein, zeaxanthin, and meso-zeaxanthin: the basic and clinical science underlying carotenoid-based nutritional interventions against ocular disease" Prog. Retin. Eye Res. 50 (2016): 34-66.

4] Barker 2nd, F.M., Snodderly, D.M., Johnson, E.J., Schalch, W., Koepcke, W., Gerss, J., Neuringer, M. "Nutritional manipulation of primate retinas, V: effects of lutein, zeaxanthin, and n-3 fatty acids on retinal sensitivity to blue-light-induced damage" Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 52 (2011): 3934-3942.

5] Hammond, B.R., Fletcher, L.M., Roos, F., Wittwer, J., Schalch, W. "A double-blind, placebo-controlled study on the effects of lutein and zeaxanthin on photostress recovery, glare disability, and chromatic contrast" Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 55 (12) (2014): 8583-8589.

6] Loughman, J., Nolan, J.M., Howard, A.N., Connolly, E., Meagher, K., Beatty, S. "The impact of macular pigment augmentation on visual performance using different carotenoid formulations" Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 53 (2012): 7871-7880.

7] Nolan, J.M., Power, R., Stringham, J., Dennison, J., Stack, J., Kelly, D., Moran, R., Akuffo, K.O., Corcoran, L., Beatty, S. "Enrichment of macular pigment enhances contrast sensitivity in subjects free of retinal disease: central retinal enrichment supplementation trials - report 1" Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 57 (2016): 3429-3439.

[8] Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS2) Research Group, "Secondary analyses of the effects of lutein/zeaxanthin on age-related macular degeneration progression: AREDS2 report No. 3" JAMA Ophthalmol 132(2014): 142-149.

[9] Stahl, W., Sies, H. "β-Carotene and other carotenoids in protection from sunlight" Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 96 (2012): 1179S-1184S.

10] Keller, J.N., Schmitt, F.A., Scheff, S.W., Ding, Q., Chen, Q., Butterfield, D.A., Markesbery, W.R. "Evidence of increased oxidative damage in subjects with mild cognitive impairment" Neurology 64 (2005): 1152-1156.

[11] Grodstein F., Kang, J.H., Glynn, R.J., Cook, N.R., Gaziano J.M. "A randomized trial of beta carotene supplementation and cognitive function in men: the Physicians' Health Study II" Arch. Intern. Med. 167(2007) 2184-2190.

[12] Hammond Jr, B.R., Miller, L.S., Bello, M.O., Lindbergh, C.A., Mewborn,C., Renzi-Hammond, L.M. "Effects of lutein/zeaxanthin supplementation on the cognitive function of community-dwelling older adults: a randomized, double-masked, placebo-controlled trial" Front. Aging Neurosci.9 (2017)

13] Iwamoto, T., Hosoda, K., Hirano, R., Kurata, H., Matsumoto, A., Miki, W., Kamiyama, M., Itakura, H., Yamamoto, S., Kondo, K. "Inhibition of low-density lipoprotein oxidation by astaxanthin" J. Atherosclerosis Thromb. 7 (2000) 216–222.

14] Yoshida, H., Yanai, H., Ito, K., Tomono, Y., Koikeda, T., Tsukahara, H., Tada, N. "Administration of natural astaxanthin increases serum HDL-cholesterol and adiponectin subjects with mild hyperlipidemia" Atherosclerosis209 (2010) 520-523.

15] Leermakers, E.T., Darweesh, S.K., Baena, C.P., Moreira, E.M., Melo van Lent, D., Tielemans, M.J., Muka, T., Vitezova, A., Chowdhury, R., Bramer, W.M., et al. "The effects of lutein on cardiometabolic health across the life course: a systematic review and meta-analysis" Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 103 (2016) 481-494.

16] Bonet, M.L., Canas, J.A., Ribot, J., Palou, A. "Carotenoids and their conversion products in the control of adipocyte function, adiposity and obesity" Arch. Biochem. Biophys. 572 (2015) 112-125.